April 25 – After spending almost two years in custody awaiting trial, former Barcelona president and European football strongman Sandro Rosell has been acquitted of money laundering charges in a blow to Spanish prosecutors’ relentless campaign to wipe out football-related corruption.
Rosell, his wife and four others, were accused of “large-scale money laundering” of close to €20 million since 2006, relating to the sale of TV rights and the organisation of friendly matches featuring Brazil as well as from a sponsorship contract between Nike and Brazil.
Prosecutors were initially seeking an 11-year prison sentence and a fine of nearly €60 million. After both sides presented their case in the trial, the sentence requested was reduced to six years but Rosell ended up walking free after court officials in Madrid said there was not enough evidence for a guilty verdict.
“After evaluating the evidence presented during the trial, the accusations were not proven,” said a court statement.
Rosell, a former Nike executive in Brazil, was president of Barcelona from 2010-14 and a former big wheel at the European Clubs Association where he was a board member.
During his trial, current Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu expressed his support for Rosell who was originally detained in 2017 and had several requests to be set free on bail denied. He was eventually released a few days into the trial.
All others charged in the case, including Rosell’s wife and his former business partner, Joan Besoli, also were acquitted.
Rosell had been accused of hiding money illegally obtained by Ricardo Teixeira, the former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation. The case centred on a deal signed by Teixeira in 2006 with a company based in the Cayman Islands for the television rights to 24 Brazil friendly matches. Altogether, Rosell and his wife allegedly received close to €15 million as part of the deal.
Rosell, 55, had previously lived and worked in Brazil while Teixeira, who was a powerful member of FIFA’s executive committee, ended up being one of those indicted by US authorities as part of the FIFAGate scandal. Described in his homeland as the man of a thousand contacts, he rarely appears in public these days and stays in Brazil for fear of being arrested.
In 2014 Rosell’s star began to fade when he resigned as Barcelona president after he was accused of the misappropriation of funds from the signing of Neymar in 2013. In a totally separate case, he is waiting to be tried for corruption, fraud and tax evasion related to Neymar’s transfer.
In spite of his time behind bars and the accusations leveled at him, Rosell was defiant when he left prison in February after 643 days. “I won’t respond to the [prosecution] because their indictment is full of falsities,” he said at the time. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.
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